ISSN 2330-717X

How The Middle East Is Using Digital Health To Relieve The Pressure On Its Healthcare Sector – OpEd

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By Simon Penney*

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the global healthcare system — and its successes and failings — in ways not previously seen in our lifetime. With millions of people afflicted across the world, hospitals and healthcare centers have been stretched to their limits. It has pushed healthcare organizations to reevaluate their processes and adopt new methods to manage staffing at scale, quickly track infections and treat patients remotely during quarantine, hastening the trend towards digital healthcare.

Digital health is a rapidly growing industry set to be worth $504.4 billion by the end of 2025, according to Global Market Insights. The catch-all term comprises mobile health, e-health, telemedicine and advanced computing sciences, such as genomics, artificial intelligence (AI) and Big Data.

Digital health has been central to the public COVID-19 response, but it has far wider applications beyond the pandemic. Digital health and medical technologies are key to relieving limited global health workforce capacity and enhancing its capability, especially with the prevalence of rising global macro trends, such as aging populations and the growth of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including diabetes and cancer.

Rising regional non-communicable diseases

In the Middle East, NCDs represent a particularly grave threat amid rising unhealthy and sedentary lifestyles. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the Gulf region ranked highly for the prevalence of diabetes globally in 2019. In the face of this epidemic, it has become essential to track disease trends and monitor chronic patients’ adherence to treatment schedules and recovery progress.

As the region attempts to stem rising NCDs, it is turning to high-tech solutions such as AI, wearables, blockchain and the Internet of Things. High-NCD incidence countries can realize significant benefits using the power of these technologies to diagnose disease early and monitor patients remotely.

According to business consulting firm Frost and Sullivan, the regional wearables market is expected to grow significantly over the next few years, working with AI to track NCDs and other vital signs. For example, biosensors can be embedded within wearable devices to continuously monitor a patient’s progress, while building a database of information that can be analyzed in multiple ways, leading to greater population health insights and better patient management.

Leveraging UK digital healthcare innovation

This month, the region’s leading global health event Arab Health is set to showcase some of the world’s top digital health solutions — including those from British companies. The UK is a global leader in digital health innovation and many British healthcare technology firms have cut their teeth in the National Health Service (NHS) — the world’s largest single-payer universal health care system. These companies have pioneered healthcare solutions across a range of disciplines, such as e-record management, self-care and remote monitoring.

In the last 18 months and beyond, British digital healthcare firms have been making their mark on the ground in the region. One case in point is Intouch with Health, a groundbreaking British patient-flow management company that has secured a deal with a major Qatari hospital network to integrate and monitor its appointment scheduling in one data-rich dashboard.

Meanwhile UK-headquartered Patients Know Best (PKB) — which gives patients and professionals access to their complete personal health record — is active in Bahrain, Oman and the UAE. PKB already provides the personal health records of England’s NHS App and allows millions of patients around the world to collect all their medical data and manage their care in one single record.

British pioneers such as Helicon Health — which has its roots in University College London — are in talks with Saudi Arabian, Qatari and UAE officials to bring their early stroke detection and prevention remote monitoring technology to the Gulf. Using machine learning applied to electronic health records (EHRs), Helicon helps identify patients who are unwell with an acute illness, but not receiving the correct treatment.

In a similar vein, Scotland’s Tactuum is in talks with a number of government and private healthcare providers in Saudi Arabia and Qatar to improve healthcare team decision-making by providing quick access to critical guidelines, pathways and protocols at any time, on any device. Its Quris platform is integrated into the EHR system, accessible via web, mobile and online.

Meanwhile, British medical devices business CMR Surgical is looking to transform surgery for millions of people around the world, including in the Middle East. CMR developed Versius, a next-generation surgical robot that provides surgeons with enhanced precision, accuracy and dexterity to perform more complex operations via keyhole surgery. CMR already operate in South Asia and are now in discussions with healthcare companies across the Gulf, from the UAE to Kuwait.

The UK’s stellar pedigree in medicine and innovation dovetails with the Gulf region’s own ambitions for a futuristic digitized economy. Technologies such as AI are rapidly emerging as key enablers for multiple sectors of the region’s economy, including healthcare. With such foresight and bolstered by a keen appetite for technology and partnership, the Gulf is on course to rank among the world’s top hubs for healthcare innovation in the coming years.

• Simon Penney is the United Kingdom’s Trade Commissioner for the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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